“Because the lake’s been lowered by drought, the farthest-reaching branches scrape the bottoms of the canoes, sounding like fingernails trying to scratch their way out of a coffin.”
Wow, this was an unexpected pleasure!
Coming from the background of having read too many difficult books lately, I chose this book because it sounded like an easy, light who-dun-it with an interesting premise. Two truths, one lie: a) I greatly enjoyed this book, b) it was an easy read, c) it kept me glued to my Kindle for hours.
Of course, b) is the lie because this book was an excellent blend of who-dun-it, thriller, adventure and near-insanity.
Emma, a young painter of 28 years, gets invited back to the reopening of an exclusive summer camp for “rich bitches”. The camp was originally closed 15 years ago when – during Emma’s stay there – three of her fellow campers disappeared without a trace.
Emma, traumatised by the disappearance and what happened afterwards, comes back to deal with a creative blockage and to finally find out what happened to her friends all those years ago.
The book starts slowly; we get to know Emma and get used to the wonderful writing style Sager employs:
“I’ve heard Randall boast to potential buyers that my surfaces are like Van Gogh’s, with paint cresting as high as an inch off the canvas. I prefer to think I paint like nature, where true smoothness is a myth, especially in the woods. The chipped ridges of tree bark. The speckle of moss on rock. Several autumns’ worth of leaves coating the ground. That’s the nature I try to capture with my scrapes and bumps and whorls of paint.”
We also learn what and, partly, why she paints and, thus, get a first glimpse at the shadows in Emma’s life: Even after 15 years she still feels guilty about the disappearance of her friends and though neither kind nor extent of her guilt are clear at this point, we get a very good idea at the monstrous kind of feelings Emma harbours.
“Fifteen years. That’s how long it’s been. It feels like a lifetime ago. It also feels like yesterday.”
Thinking about that sentence, remembering the momentous events in my own life (first love, marriage, first child…), I found myself nodding agreement with that sentiment. In fact, it was quite often during the first half of the book that I found myself understanding our protagonist exceedingly, sometimes even shockingly, well.
It’s best not to talk too much about the plot because there are a few twists some of which I didn’t really see coming – that might, of course, be me but I really enjoyed them all either way.
The dense atmosphere of both the camp itself, the woods and the flooded valley helped greatly, of course, because just as my opening quote shows, the atmosphere is satisfyingly creepy at times and sinister, at least once even desperate.
All of that combined with using both traditional elements of the “great outdoors” stories as well as having Emma use her phone sensibly really kept me interested and at my Kindle with very few breaks for coffee, etc.
“I run my finger from the spot that probably-is-but-might-not-be the gazebo to the ragged triangles nearby. I assume those are rocks. Which means we need to make our way northeast until we reach them. After that, it looks to be a short walk north until I find the X. Our route now set, I open the compass app downloaded to my phone the morning I left for camp, rotating until it points northeast. Then I snag a handful of wildflowers and, with Miranda, Sasha, and Krystal in tow, march into the forest.”
A truly enjoyable book with very few flaws. Recommended to any reader.